Explaining the demise of Roseanne

ABC cancelled TV's top-rated show

Roseanne Barr and the logo for her former sitcom, Roseanne. 
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Photo illustration by Josh Granovsky

When Roseanne Barr posted a discriminatory tweet on May 22, it became clear her habits on social media—as well as her career—would seriously change.

Barr’s top-rated sitcom, Roseanne, was cancelled by ABC after the comedian’s discriminatory tweet towards former advisor to Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett. The tweet spurred prompt backlash from other Roseanne cast members, Hollywood figures, and the general public.

But Barr’s controversial social media presence proves nothing new.

She took a Twitter break after Roseanne’s revival to avoid affecting the sitcom’s reputation, but the actor has a checkered past of racist behavior that was hard to shake.

“I had to get off [Twitter] because everybody was mad at me,” Barr told USA Today back in March, just before the show aired for its 10th season. “I’m not doing any more politics. I don’t want to get anyone mad at me. I’ll try to find another way to say what is important to me.”

ABC President Channing Dungey announced the cancellation of Roseanne within hours of Barr’s post on Twitter. In an official statement, Dungey wrote, “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.”

Many stood with Dungey’s decision to immediately cancel the show, while others questioned the implications of the network’s choice.

Cancelling Roseanne has also put hundreds of the show’s cast and crew out of work, which many of its fans cited as a reason for it to return. It’s true: the swiftness of Barr’s firing left many staff without time to look for a new job. There’s hope ABC’s recently-ordered spin-off, The Connors, will restore some of those jobs, though there’s been no official confirmation as of yet.

Given the history of Barr’s racist and inflammatory online presence, some questioned why ABC waited so long to reject her discriminatory comments. Variety TV critic Caroline Framke said Barr’s tweet was “exactly in line with the persona Barr herself has cultivated—one ABC had to be aware of when it decided to get back in business with her.”

The immediacy of social media results in swift consequences for our actions, and this can have varying outcomes for people connected to the issue. In Roseanne, not only was the revived sitcom cancelled—and for good reason—but plenty of people without stake in the issue lost their jobs.

ABC has set a precedent for other networks who face the consequences of their employees’ contentious online presence with their decision.

We’re starting to see the necessary change and subsequent firings provoked by sexual assault in the entertainment industry with the #MeToo movement—and the termination of Barr’s role may very well be precendent for companies to take timely action against their racist employees.

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